The other morning, I bumped into a friend I don’t see very often. She too is a single mother and self employed, but when we bump into each other, we usually talk about other things. This time though, we ended up talking about how interesting it can be to be a single parent as well as self employed.
I have been working on my year-end accounts lately, and when I came up with my final figure, I was surprised to find that my income for the last tax year was less than a quarter of what I used to make in my old job, pre-breakdown. But I don’t feel poor! I feel happy, and free.
In my old job…
I woke up at 5:30 and went to the gym before work. Then I put on make up and jewelery and heels and went to work in an office. I couldn’t even tell you about the work I did; it involved reconciliation of assets, and it was as boring as it sounds. I made lots of spreadsheets and graphs, and used acronyms like UAT and GUI. Once a week, I and a colleague produced the mother of all spreadsheets, with all manner of graphs and shiny things, which was sent directly to a man named Juan in Madrid who wore a very expensive suit, but probably didn’t read the report as closely as we liked to think.
It’s not that I hated my job; I loved the people I worked with and actually quite enjoyed the whole thing with the graphs and the spreadsheets. But it wasn’t exactly fulfilling work. I wasn’t changing the world, and for all the meetings and spreadsheets and meetings about spreadsheets, when I looked closely, it was like one of those magic eye pictures from the 90s – and I’ve never been able to see those things. When I finally had a breakdown, I remember wandering through the offices of that building, looking at all these people in their smart clothes, staring intently at their screens, and thinking “don’t they realise it’s all pointless?”
Now, things have changed.
Of course, you could argue that what I do now is largely pointless. I write a blog; I write blogs for other people; I train business owners in how to use social media; I write a weekly column for the local paper that is so inconsequential, they often forget to publish it. But it means more to me than spreadsheets and smart suits. I enjoy writing this blog, preparing posts for it, sharing posts and – most importantly – hearing from people who have been touched or inspired by my writing. I love helping busines owners to “get” social media and improve their online presence. And I even enjoy writing my weekly column for the local paper.
More than that though – and this is what I was discussing with my friend – it’s that feeling. The feeling that I’m in charge of my own destiny, that I’m in control of what I earn, and that nobody is my boss! I love all of my clients, and will bend over backwards to get work done on time for them, but because I want to provide a great service – not because they’re standing there telling me I need to do it or I’ll get a bad PDP score at the end of the year. (not that my manager ever did that to me in any previous job, but… you know what I mean)
I love being self employed. I love the idea that I could wake up tomorrow and think “I’d quite like to start doing this sort of work…” and then just make it happen – as opposed to working for a big company where if you want to change your job role in any way it requires at least seven meetings, and usually someone else leaving the team so that you can take on their role – which you don’t really want to do, but you’re hoping that by taking on their crap too you might get a pay rise or even a promotion at the end of the year.
When I first went self employed, I was running people’s social media accounts for them, and doing a little blogging. Then I decided I wanted to do more blogging, so I went and got more blogging clients. Then I decided I would rather teach people how to run their social media accounts, than do it for them – so I started doing that. At the beginning of this year I decided I wanted to bring this blog in as a part of my business and earn income from it, so I did. In a few months I might decided I want to write something else, do somethign else, go in a different direction.
As well as this, there’s the real reason I wanted to be self employed in the first place. S’s nursery is having sports day next week, and I don’t need to beg my boss for the day off to go and watch. She’s been poorly this week and I didn’t need to make that horrible, guilty phone call in the mornings to say I wouldn’t be in (yes, it’s been tough trying to still get my work delivered on time for clients, but I’ve managed). If we want to take a holiday, we can choose when we want to go and are not beholden to the office holiday calendar. And when S starts school next year, I won’t need to send her to holiday clubs or whoever has a spare space on their sofa, just so I can go and do a job I don’t even enjoy. Instead, I can lower my workload, work in the evenings or do the odd morning here and there in between having tons of fun and going on adventures. My plan is that I can build this business and increase my income so that by the time S is in school, I can afford to take school holidays off and still have money to do things.
I have good months and bad months with this work, but I always have the option to get out there and hustle a bit more, find another client, offer to do more for the clients I have. That feeling, that it’s within my control, is not something I’m prepared to compromise.
Thismummylark · 10/07/2015 at 18:05
If the oppertunity is there for you to do what you find a passion and to be paid enough to live off, what more can you ask for :) thats what life should be about not doing a job that bores you to tears till you reach 60….65. Plus its inspiring! Well done.
Vicky Charles · 11/07/2015 at 09:06
Thank you! It’s like that old saying about spending money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need, in order to impress people we don’t really like! For me I can’t stand the thought of getting to retirement age and then thinking “shit, where did my life go, when do I get to do what I want to do?” Also I think it’s important for me to set that example to S that adults don’t only do jobs they hate and moan about their work!
Tim · 10/07/2015 at 18:39
Interesting stuff, Vicky. Having control and flexibility counts for a lot – and your happiness is something you’re happy to trade off against a large chunk of salary, I’d imagine.
Daydreaming idly, I’ve often weighed up how much income I would truly need to be happy with if I were ever to go self-employed – quite a bit less, certainly. One thing that did surprise me is how much it costs me just to go to work. 45 miles per day in the car isn’t cheap. Neither are proper lunches and the gallon or so of (thankfully subsidised) Starbucks I drink every day. Then there’s the expense of having a separate wardrobe for work. The cost of after school clubs for the boys. All sorts of stuff – it’s amazing how much it adds up.
Overall, I still don’t think I could afford to ever go self-employed voluntarily, but if I ever had to do so it wouldn’t be as much of a hardship as it appears at first glance (although I have to admit I would miss the safety of a steady salary).
Vicky Charles · 11/07/2015 at 09:04
That’s an interesting concept Tim – about how much it actually costs a lot of parents to go to work. I can tell you from experience that it’s fairly easy to quickly get used to a lower income without necessarily noticing… then again my leaving my job sort of coincided with having S so I’ve never had a time with S when we had that extra income.
Ref the separate wardrobe for work – I’m trying to master the art of not looking like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards when I meet with clients! Weirdly, I find I tend to dress more smartly/with more care than when I was employed and resented having a dress code when we never saw clients!
Tim · 11/07/2015 at 09:20
Without boring you with the detail, the cost of going to work is surprisingly large, particularly when you consider that it’s essentially post-tax expenditure: the cost of having a full work wardrobe, running a car and commuting a 200-250 miles pw, Starbucks etc. At a conservative estimate, I calculated that this equates to around £15k of my pre-tax salary (I’m a higher rate taxpayer) just to cover the ‘cost of working’. Which is quite scary when you think about it. Okay, it’s my choice that I work a fair distance from where we live but equally there are lots of people who work in London who are also spending several thousand pounds a year on tube/rail passes. When you factor all these costs into the equation, that alone makes the prospect of working for yourself from home seem much more attractive!
Vicky Charles · 11/07/2015 at 13:36
Yikes, that’s a lot of money! I’m lucky in that even before I went self employed, I’ve lived within walking distance (or a short bus journey if I’m feeling lazy) of the offices I’ve worked in since I was about 20. In fact, at one point a couple of years ago, I lived two city blocks from the office and would go home at lunch time. I don’t recommend that though; very hard to get up off the sofa and go back!
John McQuay · 12/07/2015 at 08:03
It’s a frightening the amount of money spent on just getting to and from work. £35 PW on petrol, not to mention the sneaky coffee is only the start. When you factor in maintenance, tax, insurance etc. getting to work costs me at least £250 a month. A lot more than train travel, but a price I’m willing to pay to get home to my children at a decent time in the evening. I can’t imagine being self employed; the concept scares me a little. Keep doing the good work Vicky; you’re rich as a result…though maybe not financially, you have things money can’t buy because you took the plunge. :-)
Vicky Charles · 12/07/2015 at 14:51
Thanks John, I feel very lucky!
Sabrina (The Mummy Stylist) · 11/07/2015 at 09:45
What an inspirational post! Your previous job sounds amusing, haha – but how you started to work fro yourself and how it has grown – that is amazing! I hope to be able to do that one day. I do love my job, but the commute is a killer. Thank you for writing this! Sabrina xx
Vicky Charles · 11/07/2015 at 13:34
Thanks Sabrina, my previous job had its moments; it was a very young company and there was a great social side to working there. But the work was mostly geekery!
Leigh - Headspace Perspective · 11/07/2015 at 11:02
Blimey Vicky I must say your old job sounds soul destroyingly deathly boring. I perceive you as thriving in your new employment – you know what you’re talking about, share your tips, and are a fab blogger. The bonus is as you say you can be flexible in the time you spend with S – and that’s something that no money can by or salary pay for xxx
Vicky Charles · 11/07/2015 at 13:33
Thanks Leigh, you’re right – there’s no money in the world. I had this dawning realisation when S was quite small, that it didn’t matter how much money I had, I would still need to put the baby in the sling and bring her with me if I wanted to go and buy some milk!
Ref my job – I once went to a fortune teller on Brighton Pier who didn’t believe I worked in pensions! It was one of those jobs where it was the people rather than the work that made it fun.
Joanne · 12/07/2015 at 08:07
There is also a certain satisfaction about buying things that you really need with money you have well and truly earn’t yourself. We used the commission on my book sales to go on a four day break to Disneyland and this in itself filled me with so much joy and Pride, knowing that I wrote a book, people bought it and now we were in Disney! Meant so much more than when I was employed.
Vicky Charles · 12/07/2015 at 14:51
Wow Joanne, that’s brilliant – you’re right. When it’s from something so personal it means so much more than just a normal pay day at the end of the month.
Naa Takia · 13/07/2015 at 13:07
Interestingly nice post. I’m not a mom yet so I won’t understand how juggling the baby/kid schedule is like. Perhaps it’s just like juggling your whole ‘personal’ life while trying hard not to get fired for not giving up some personal time too. lol. Writing is great, and it’s my passion too. Likewise, I hope to go into it full-time someday. Thanks for sharing this post.
Lucy @bottlefor2 · 14/07/2015 at 08:42
very thoughtfully written. It is certainly made me think about my choices at the moment. I’m at a decision point trying to decide what is best for me, my family and what I can afford to change financially.
thanks for sharing.
Anita · 15/07/2015 at 22:28
Good for you! You’ll never regret being in control of your own life even when it means having no one else to blame when things don’t go according to plan. Your child is blessed to have more of you in his or her life as well!
Vicky Charles · 18/07/2015 at 21:07
Ah, yes – the responsibility thing is a tough pill to swallow when things don’t quite go to plan!